Focus on exporters

Successfully exporting to Canada with a niche product: ATS Tanner Banding Systems Inc.

As is the case with many Swiss companies that are successful in Canada, ATS Tanner Banding Systems Inc. sells a niche product. The Swiss Business Hub Canada talked to Martin Reist, National Sales Manager at ATS Tanner in Canada, to find out more about what it takes to be successful in Canada.

ATS Tanner

Could you tell us who your customers are? Which industries do you cater to?

We serve a wide customer base in the Graphic-, Security-, Manufacturing-, Food- and Pharma Industry. Our equipment is a popular niche product, often customized to meet the various demands from these different markets. We enjoy a high customer loyalty, because of our local presence, quick support and service for a quality product. The continuous development and improvement of the technology in Switzerland, also secures our market in the future.

 What were the reasons for establishing your company in the province of Ontario?

 Ontario and specifically Toronto is by far the largest business center in Canada. Here we are near to many of our customers. The proximity to the International airports in Toronto and Hamilton easily connects us to other locations in Canada and the US.

Do you also have a manufacturing plant in Canada? Do you offer after sales service?

ATS is committed to the workplace Switzerland. R&D, manufacturing and head-office activities are centralized in Meisterschwanden and Zug. Sales and support activities however take place, close to our customers. As much as Canada welcomes local manufacturing, many specialty equipment and machinery is commonly manufactured outside of Canada.

Why did ATS Tanner decide to expand to Canada?

We founded our Canadian company in 2005, after a few years of working with local distributors. At that time ATS did recognize that its business simply developed better in markets where it operated with a local presence while still representing its own brand. In every growing company, such an international expansion is also a necessary development.

Can you talk about your experience creating a company in Canada?

It started as a strategic decision in Switzerland with the aim to better serve existing customers in Canada. The company founding process in Canada is not complicated, but a legal entity is an important prerequisite to facilitate imports, settlement of the VAT, and filing taxes in Canada. Once the structure and legal interface between a head office and subsidiary are cleared, the registration is quickly done. Citizenship and familiarity with Canadian tradition in an organization are helpful benefits. Afterwards you will need commonplace things like a business address, operational offices, banking, insurance and staffing. I still remember our ramp-up very well, we recorded our first sale 2 months after we arrived in Canada, but at that time we were far from perfect.   

What were your main challenges when you entered the Canadian market?

With a good entrepreneurial spirit and previously acquired international experience you can manage many possible challenges before they become surprises. We also benefited with an excellent network inside ATS. Due to our local presence, we quickly developed a network of appreciating partners and respecting our competitors. I believe building a business is probably one of the most rewarding experiences in a career.

What about certification in Canada?

Depending on the industry you are working in, Canada recognizes most of the applicable EU and CE standards. On a Federal level, each machine must meet an electrical inspection called a “CSA” (Canadian Standards Association). Each Province has additional workplace safety requirements, these are normally met and implemented by our customers. Such standards also protect us today from cheap imports that would skip such precautions. “Safety first” is one of the most often used statements here and it protects our labor force from equipment that might be unsafe in operation.

Could you share any advice for Swiss SMEs who would like to enter the Canadian market?

Any SME should have a successful product or service already in place, either in the EU or the US market. Conducting a careful analysis of the market and obtaining a realistic budget and timeline for the roll out are key. A cooperation with a trusted partner to test and learn about the market, can be very insightful. Handling the Canadian market, via the much larger US market is very often misjudged because of the large distances, 4 different time zones, and the lack of proximity to customers. Expensive and time-consuming travelling consumes lot of the efficiency in a distribution.

What is the perception of “Swiss made” in Canada?

“Swiss made” is still a trusted international brand, but this does not mean we are not measured and compared like everybody else. Behind the “Swiss made” label, the Canadian market rightly expects a superior product, service and innovation. But after decoupling the Swiss currency from the Euro in 2015, the equipment made in Switzerland became more expensive, compared to competitive products manufactured in the EU.

In your opinion, what does it take to be successful in Canada in the long term?

The rules to be “successful” in business in Canada are similar to the rest of the world. Certainly, we differ since we are still a country of immigration, growing substantially every year. Canada has good experience in successfully selecting and integrating people from all over the world. Our school system is considered one of the best and our universities are top ranked globally, releasing every year well educated, young people into our workforce. Modern tools and the latest technology are vastly implemented and used. Digitalization has reached a very high level and is being widely used in our society. If you do not participate in the Canadian market, you will not be successful here.

Machinery and equipment are some of Canada’s main imports. Do you see a potential for growth?

Canada has large mining and resource industries. Heavy machinery and equipment populate many of our statistics. Today, Canada has stopped just exploiting its resources but is adding more value and services to it. Converting Canada’s resources into more high-quality products alone creates new industries, with a tremendous potential for every product and service that can contribute to this process. 

Is there a difference in business mentality between Switzerland and Canada?

Switzerland's role in the global market does clash with some of the national interests of which the Swiss are very proud of. On the contrary, without exports Switzerland’s market would remain small. Swiss companies with a vision beyond the borders of Switzerland, still benefit today. Globalization has meant business mentalities, not only between Switzerland and Canada, but everywhere have become much closer. Since Canada in size is 240x bigger than Switzerland, some of the proven and applied practices in Switzerland might need an adjustment in order to be successful here.  

How do you see the future development for establishing a Swiss SME in Canada?

15 Years ago, we pioneered by bringing a Swiss company to Canada. Industries in Switzerland and around the world are in constant change. On the one hand, the need to find new markets for products made in Switzerland remains stable. The required infrastructure on the other hand, to successfully represent products has also changed. Today we invest more, developing new skills in handling international business affairs, update and apply latest developments in systems engineering and computer science. To locally strengthen the brand of a quality product and its brand “Switzerland”, requires a convincing marketing and local presence. This has and will not change.  

About ATS Tanner Banding Systems Inc.

ATS Tanner Banding Systems Inc. is a Canadian subsidiary embedded in the ATS-Tanner Group headquartered in Switzerland. The group consists of seven international companies and is active around the world. From modest beginnings, ATS Automatic Taping Systems AG was founded in 1988, and has developed into a leading international service provider in the field of end packaging. Today the ATS Group has about 120 employees. In Canada the company has a management staff of 4, but partners and coordinate with independent service centers in Montreal, Vancouver and in the Toronto area. The company distributes and services banding equipment that is being manufactured in Switzerland.  

Do you want to gain a foothold in the Canadian market?

Are you looking for local support and expert advice? The Swiss Business Hub Canada and S-GE’s consultant for North America Annina Bosshard will be happy to assist you to ensure a smooth market entry.

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